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Flooding, cleanup and outages well after Irene

Don’t tell folks in Vt. and N.J. that Irene is gone – hundreds of thousands are still dealing with flooding. As for the rest of the East Coast, millions prepared to spend another night without electricity.
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

Top developments:

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. -- Don’t tell folks in Vermont and New Jersey that Irene is long gone – hundreds of thousands of residents on Monday were still dealing with flooding. As for the rest of the East Coast, millions prepared to spend another night without electricity.

Almost a dozen New England towns were rendered virtual islands Monday as floodwaters reshaped parts of Vermont and upstate New York, turning placid rivers into raging torrents and some streets into treacherous mud bogs.

Hundreds of roads remained closed, dozens of bridges were gone.

Vermont saw its worst flooding in more than 80 years. At least three people were killed in the mountainous, land-locked state, which rarely sees tropical storms.

Homes and businesses were flooded when the state got up to 11 inches of rain from Irene, which had been reduced to a tropical storm by the time it reached Vermont on Sunday.

"We prepared for the worst and we got the worst in central and southern Vermont," Gov. Peter Shumlin said. "It's just devastating — whole communities under water. ... We're tough folks here in Vermont, but Irene really ... hit us hard."

The destruction was etched across the landscape: highways washed out by fast-moving water, bridges and homes crumpled into heaps of broken planks and streets filled with mud thick enough to stop heavy duty vehicles in their tracks.

The images were much the same in upstate New York, where buildings that had withstood a century of hard winters and spring floods were carried away. The floodwaters upended cars and trucks and sent trees tumbling down rivers like matchsticks.

Along the East Coast, many of the worst effects arose from rains that fell inland, not the highly anticipated storm surge along the shores. Winds also added to the damage by sending trees into powerlines, homes and vehicles.

At 1 p.m. ET Monday, nearly 5.1 million homes and businesses were still without power, the U.S. Department of Energy reported.

The states with the most outages were New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts.

In addition, Connecticut outages represented 44 percent of all customers there. Rhode Island saw 65 percent of its customers, or 282,000 homes and businesses, without power.

During the course of Irene, 7.4 million customers lost power — nearly double the outages from the last hurricane to make landfall in the United States in 2008.

Irene left millions without power across much of the Eastern Seaboard, was blamed for at least 41 deaths and forced airlines to cancel more than 12,000 flights.

It never became a big-city nightmare, but in more rural areas, rivers and creeks turned into raging torrents tumbling with tree limbs and parts of buildings.

Five rivers in Vermont hit record crests on Sunday or early Monday, the Weather Channel reported. New Jersey saw nine crest records, officials said, and upstate New York three.

In Vermont, even though the sun was out on Monday, officials worried that more damage could still be done. Shumlin earlier said his state was facing "a full-blown flooding catastrophe."

Floodwaters on Sunday gushed through downtown Brattleboro, an artsy community of 12,000 along the Connecticut River.

Kevin Putnam was busy pumping out the basement of his parents' home on Monday, after the floodwaters had risen almost to their first-floor windows. "It was scary, there were giant boulders bouncing down the brook," Putnam said.

After evacuating his parents from the home on Sunday, he returned to save their 15-year-old cat, swimming across the backyard to do so. "She's the meanest cat ever, but I had to do it," Putnam said.

Several of the state's historic covered bridges were washed away, among them a 141-year-old covered bridge in Rockingham.

"I didn't think the water would ever get that high. I can't believe it," said Henry Shattuck, describing the remains of the bridge over the Williams River. "I've seen people crying because it's gone. It hurts me, too."

In Woodstock, Vt., a water main break left the town without water coming from faucets and toilets but with plenty gushing through the streets.

"It is complete mayhem up here," a spokesman at the Woodstock police department said.

State offices, businesses and many schools were closed on Monday as officials urged Vermont residents to stay indoors and off the roads so emergency crews could deal with the worst hit areas.

Overnight every single road in Vermont — except interstate highways 89 and 91 — was closed at one point due to flooding, said Robert Stirewalt, a spokesman for the Vermont Emergency Management Agency.

Field Notes: See readers' photos of the damage

Known for its many rivers and creeks, Vermont had swift water rescue teams ready to move and every single emergency worker in the small state was called up to help.

But even some of the helpers encountered terrifying conditions and had to turn back on some occasions.

Green Mountain Power considered deliberately flooding Vermont's capital Montpelier to save the earthen Marshfield Dam, about 20 miles up the Winooski River to the northeast.

But water levels stabilized Monday morning and they decided there was no need to take that drastic step. However, engineers were continuing to monitor the situation.

Residents of 350 households were asked to leave as a precaution.

The Insurance Information Institute and the Property and Casualty Insurers of America said overall damage estimates below $5 billion sounded right. That would be far from any record for a natural disaster but still significant.

The storm will also take a bite out of Labor Day tourist business from the Outer Banks to the Jersey Shore to Cape Cod.

This year has been one of the most extreme for weather in U.S. history, with $35 billion in losses so far from floods, tornadoes and heat waves.

Some other Irene damage reports by region:

New Jersey
Raging waterways caused dramatic flooding on Monday across New Jersey. Several rivers have not yet crested, and the rising waters threatened to smash longtime flood records, authorities said.

"We're going to have historic flooding," said Morris County Emergency Coordinator Scott DiGiralomo.

The Pompton, Pequannock and Passaic rivers are "well above flood stage," pouring high water into the towns of Pequannock, Parsippany, Denville and Long Hill, he said.

"Some won't crest until tomorrow morning," he said.

St. Clare's Hospital in Denville was surrounded by flood water but remained open to care for patients, with National Guard troops shuttling staff and supplies using high-water vehicles.

Fairfield, a town 25 miles west of New York City that is surrounded on three sides by the curving Passaic River, was in danger of becoming an island, said Armando Fontoura, the Essex County sheriff and the county emergency management coordinator.

Surging from Sunday's powerful hurricane, the Passaic was swelling and had not yet crested, he said.

"The worst is yet to come for us," Fontoura said. "This is going to be very, very bad for the next couple of days. You are not going to be able to get in or get out."

The river could rise as high as 23.6 feet, said Fairfield Deputy Police Chief Anthony Manna, breaking the record of 23.2 feet set in 1903 and topping a more recent high of 22.9 in 1984.



In Millburn, several businesses on Main Street suffered severe water damage when the Millburn River rose above its banks, flooding basements with up to 9 feet of water.

Also Monday, a house exploded in an evacuated flood zone at Pompton Lakes, which is surrounded by three rivers and was seeing serious flooding Monday. Record crests were expected in the area.

On the historic boardwalk in Asbury Park, heavy concrete benches were upended and the wooden walkway was heaped with sand.

The sandy beach was washed away. with hard-packed flat dirt and debris left behind, said Geoff Merritt, who owns a house two blocks from the boardwalk.

"The beach is gone," he said. "It was a nice beach, and it's just gone."

Atlantic City, on the other hand, fared well. "No trees are down or power lines, as far as I can see," said Danielle Battistone, manager of the local Tun Tavern and Brewery. "It's strange. It's completely dry."

Casinos there started re-opening on Monday, creating backups as gamblers sought to check into hotels.

For rivers like central New Jersey's Millstone, it's the fourth — and most severe — major flood since Hurricane Floyd a dozen years ago.

State climatologist David Robinson said the only worse flooding statewide was the Great Flood on 1903.

"We're talking a tragic mass of flooding," he said.

Robinson said the state seems to be in a pattern of frequent heavy rains. It's not all explained by impervious surfaces brought in by sprawl. "It's not as if in 1999, New Jersey suddenly developed," he said.

Massachusetts
From its eastern islands to the western Berkshires mountain range, officials reported flooded roadways, trees downed over rail tracks and evacuations in some towns. Normally sandy beaches jammed with people were deserted rock fields churned up by the sea.

Authorities braced for dam failures in the Berkshires because of the heavy rains and were concerned about the next tide cycle.

Washington, D.C., and Maryland
Some 80,000 in and around the nation's capital remained without power Monday morning.

Maryland Transit Authority reported major delays for its light rail Monday morning.



But commuter buses running into Baltimore and the District of Columbia, as well as the Metro train system serving the capital and nearby suburbs were running normally.

The MTA also reported that it was transporting more than 2,000 evacuees from the Baltimore area back to the evacuated resort community of Ocean City.

New York City
Some 38,000 homes and business were without power Monday. The outages were due to wind, rather than water, as Irene hurled trees and other debris into power lines.



"The vast majority" of the outages should be fixed by Tuesday evening, with 850 workers from as far away as Colorado and Texas helping, utility operator Con Ed said.

Some 2,000 trees were downed across the city.

Subway service resumed at 6 a.m. on Monday. The city's bus service was also running normally on a morning when New York enjoyed a spell of dry, warm weather.

Commuters from New Jersey, Connecticut and Long Island had a more difficult time of it, with many unable to get to their jobs in Manhattan because of train cancellations.

At Pennsylvania Station, a picture of the flooded Trenton, N.J., train station was hung in the window of the Amtrak teller booths to show customers why trains had been canceled.

Connecticut
Twenty homes on Long Island Sound were destroyed by churning surf.

Six members of a family in Fairfield were rushed to a hospital after being overcome by carbon monoxide from a portable generator.

New York state
The torrential rain chased hundreds of people in upstate New York from their homes and closed 137 miles of the state's main highway.

The towns of Keene in the Adirondacks, and Windham and Phoenicia in the Catskills were effectively isolated Monday by damage to roads and bridges.

Up to 13 inches of rain fell in parts of the state.

"We were expecting heavy rains," said Bobbi-Jean Jeun of Clarksville, a hamlet near Albany, N.Y. "We were expecting flooding. We weren't expecting devastation. It looks like somebody set a bomb off."

Virginia
Moderate flooding is expected in Virginia on Tuesday when the Nansemond and Blackwater rivers crest, officials said.

The state had its worst storm damage in Richmond and other inland locales rather than on the coast. About 550,000 customers remained without power on Monday, down from 1.1 million customers who lost power in the second-largest outage in Virginia history, Gov. Bob McDonnell told reporters.



He said he saw a lot of downed trees, flooded roads and some damaged piers during an aerial tour on Monday over Virginia Beach, where winds peaked at 69 mph, and surrounding areas.

But state officials had a positive outlook about the upcoming holiday weekend.

"We have had some minor beach erosion ... but the beaches actually opened yesterday and the water quality is back to where it was," said Virginia Beach Fire Department spokesman Tim Riley.

In Richmond, large, old-growth trees uprooted and crushed houses and automobiles.

In Norfolk, where storm surges got within inches of breaking a record, most of the water had receded by Sunday. There was isolated flooding and downed trees, but nowhere near the damage officials predicted.

North Carolina
Mandatory evacuations remained in effect for parts of eastern North Carolina, where dozens of roads were cut off.

Flooding posed a threat to inland counties that had received up to 15 inches of rain. Homes and other structures along the Northeast Cape Fear and Tar rivers are at risk.



"Flooding remains a serious concern for a number of areas down east," said Gov. Beverly Perdue.

Crews worked to remove hundreds of tires that washed onto Atlantic Beach. The state once constructed artificial reefs for fish using tires, which sometimes are loosened during storms and pushed ashore.

Six people died here, and infrastructure losses included the only road to the seven villages on Hatteras Island.

"Overall, the destruction is not as severe as I was worried it might be, but there is still lots and lots of destruction and people's lives are turned upside down," said Perdue.